Smoke plumed out of the Souq al-Madina on September 29, 2012, as a fire ripped through over 500 stalls in Aleppo’s medieval marketplace. For 700 years, the covered bazaar had been a hive of activity. Now much of the souk is a burned shell, another casualty of Syria’s civil war. For several months Aleppo has been the scene of fighting between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and anti-government rebel groups. Along with the tragic loss of human life in this 18-month-old conflict is a loss of history.
Aleppo, now Syria’s largest city, is one of the oldest continually inhabited places in the world, dating back to before the pyramids’ construction. UNESCO named the city a World Heritage site in 1986. Aleppo’s historic center has the look and feel of a traditional Arab city with its madrasas (Islamic schools), hammams (Turkish baths), palaces, and caravanserais (inns for merchants). The souk dates from the 1400s and 1500s when Aleppo was a trading center and the third largest city in the Ottoman Empire. Muslims, Christians, and Jews conducted business in the souk’s shops and 7.5 miles of covered stone-paved streets.
Aleppo lies along the historic Silk Road, 75 miles from the Mediterranean Sea. Commercial roads met in Aleppo coming from Mesopotamia and China to the east, Europe to the west, and the Fertile Crescent and Egypt to the south. Fabric, spices, soap, and agricultural products were traded here centuries ago, as they were until recently.
Other World Heritage sites in Syria are also in threatened by the civil war. In mid-October, Aleppo’s Great Mosque, a 12th-century site, was burned and scarred by bullets. Thieves broke into one of the best-preserved Crusader castles, Crac des Chevaliers, and ruins of the ancient desert city of Palmyra have been looted and damaged. UNESCO and Arab cultural organizations have urged both sides to preserve their common past even as they fight to determine the future.
Image credit: © AP Photo/SANA, File
- Historic, Once-Bustling Bazaar in Syria now a Battleground
Find out what journalists and merchants witness as they enter the burned remains of Aleppo’s souk.
(Source: Los Angeles Times, October 17, 2012)
- In Syria’s Largest City, Fire Ravages Ancient Market
In this article, both sides in the Syrian conflict express anger over the damage done to Aleppo’s cultural sites.
(Source: The New York Times, September 29, 2012)
- UNESCO Denounces Destruction of Aleppo’s Historic Market
Read what UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova says about the damage to Aleppo’s historic market.
(Source: PressTV, October 1, 2012)
- Aleppo, Syrian Arab Republic
This entry describes some of the historical milestones in the city’s long history.
(Source: Organization of World Heritage Cities; accessed October 31, 2012)
- In Syria’s Destruction, There Is Much to Mourn
View a vivid portrait of the ancient city and what made it a unique cultural crossroads.
(Source: The Washington Post, October 9, 2012)
- Syrian Conflict: Your Pictures of Aleppo’s Souk and Old City
See photos of the souk and citadel in the Old City of Aleppo.
(Source: BBC News in Pictures, September 30, 2012)